Waiting for the rain

Rain is a free, renewable, natural resource, but despite those attributes, very few transportation companies have bothered to harvest the water or put it to good use—until now.

Even though it’s early in the adoption phase, some organizations, including Great Canadian Truck & Fleet Services/Great Canadian Coaches Inc. and Guelph Transit are beginning to put the infrastructure in place that will allow them to use collected rainwater to wash their commercial vehicles. According to Jack Jackson, president of Awash Systems Corp. in Stoney Creek, Ont., it’s a move that makes ecological sense as washing trucks or buses takes a lot of water. Although Awash sells brushes and attachments for power washers and not rain collection products, Jackson champions the idea of water harvesting because he understands how easy it is to waste potable water.

“If you use a ½-inch water hose with a regular garden sprayer, you are using 11 gallons per minute. If you watch a guy standing there for 15 minutes, he’s using 165 gallons of water just spraying away. If you go to a pressure washer, you are only using 3-4 gallons per minute, but again it could take him up to an hour to wash a truck and trailer, so an hour is 240 gallons of water. If you watch somebody washing a truck with a pressure washer, they spend more time just spraying water on it because that’s easier than scrubbing it,” said Jackson.

Wayne Galliher is well aware of how much water it takes to wash a vehicle. As the water conservation project manager for Guelph Transit, Galliher is overseeing a $160,000 (plus HST) project currently under construction that will collect rainwater from the Guelph Transit operation facility’s roof, treat it with UV light, and then use it to wash the city’s passenger bus fleet. Approximately 40,000L of rainwater will be stored in above-ground tanks, and the pumping system will use Canadian technology from Fergus, Ontario-based InterPump Supply Ltd.

“Currently each bus washed requires 450 to 500L of potable drinking water per wash, with up to 60 buses washed per day through our transit operations,” said Galliher. “Through this installation, we are seeking to reduce our water use per bus by 40% by substituting rainwater into the third and final phase of the bus wash. On an annual basis, this substitution should equal potable water savings of approximately nine million litres of water.”

Along with saving drinking water, Galliher hopes the use of rainwater will help the Ontario city reduce the amount of soap, cleansers and chemicals it requires to clean its buses.

“With Guelph being groundwater-based, we do have naturally occurring hardness in our drinking water. As such, the bus wash process currently uses a streaking agent as part of the final bus wash rinse to eliminate calcium which might form post-wash on bus windows. With the integration of rainwater for use in the final wash—which is naturally soft—we are seeking to eliminate use of the streaking agent,” he explained, adding that softer water requires “a lesser dosing of soap to form lather than hard water sources.”

Great Canadian plans to use harvested rainwater to begin washing buses and trailers next year.
Great Canadian plans to use harvested rainwater to begin washing buses and trailers next year.

Guelph Transit hopes to have the construction completed on its rainwater harvesting system this fall, and start using it in late 2014. After testing the system for a few months, the transit authority is expected to send a report to the Ontario ministry of the environment by late March 2015 as part of the government’s Showcasing Water Innovation project.
At about the same time as Guelph Transit is finalizing its report, Great Canadian Fleet Services and Great Canadian Coaches expects to start construction on its rainwater washing system.

Originally, Larry Hundt, who is president of both arms of Great Canadian’s business groups, said there were no plans to install a rainwater collection system but some municipal red tape made the decision an easy one. Looking to expand in 2008, the Kitchener, Ontario-based business purchased a large factory site with the intention of renovating the building. That’s when things got a bit complicated.

“We have a situation here where we had to review our site plan and work with the City of Kitchener to contain more water on our site,” said Hundt.

“They imposed new regulations on us. What we would have had to do was dig a large hole—a massive hole—and fill it with gravel and take the rainwater from our roof and put it into a stormwater gallery. It’s not a very pretty gallery, it’s very expensive, digging all that soil out and putting all the gravel in. We felt that it would make a lot more sense to use the rainwater.”

According to Hundt, Great Canadian had already installed one storm water gallery which he described as “a hole probably large enough you could park three coaches in it underground,” and didn’t want the expense of installing a second. While a rainwater collection system would alleviate the need for a second gallery, it would offer other benefits as well.

“Kitchener has very hard water because it’s artesian well water. We have water spots on our windows because of it. With the soft rainwater, we’ll get a much cleaner rinse and we won’t get the water spots so it’s a beautiful thing to use the rain water, and environmentally it’s a real bonus as well.”

Great Canadian spends a lot of time washing vehicles—both its own and other people’s. Every one of its 53 buses and 12 vans gets washed before leaving the facility. The Fleet Services side of the business offers not only repair and collision work (including painting) and tire sales for both passenger vehicles and commercial trucks, but detailing services as well. Hundt said the company washes city transit buses (including double-deckers) and does both pre-delivery prep and detailing for new trucks and thorough cleaning of fleet vehicles in between driver change-overs. At any given time, he said there are between three and five trucks undergoing a thorough detailing.

To make the process more efficient, Great Canadian installed a $100,000 automatic wash system from Whiting Systems Inc. to clean the coaches and the trailers. Tractors, however, are still washed by hand as the automated system works best on large, flat surfaces.

“It’s very efficient in its cleaning. To wash buses or tractors by hand is a big process. It probably does take more water, but it’s so efficient, if you had to wash them by hand it would be a very expensive and long process,” said Hundt.
As to how much water Great Canadian will be able to save by incorporating rainwater, that won’t be fully known until the system is up and running. The company has already purchased two collection tanks but the next phase of the project won’t start for a few months.

“We’re at the point now that we’re going into the winter season, which isn’t going to help us any with rainwater—not with the winter they are predicting.”

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  • How many gallons of water would it to take to wash one semi truck with or without trailer if it takes 4 hours detailing